Tori spent Saturday going over the fifth draft of my work in progress with the proverbial “fine tooth comb.” Which would be an issue if I’d used that phrases in the story. My characters are around 12, 13 years old. Would they say “with a fine tooth comb?” Would they even know what that means?
I only ask because there were a couple of similar idiomatic issues in the manuscript, about which I will soon have to make a decision. Because the project is all but finished, The story is good. It’s a matter of tweaking a little punctuation, changing a couple of names, that kind of thing. Nothing involving changes in the actual story.
So while she was doing that (god I love you, Tori! I’m so lucky, and not just because you love me, but because could there possibly be a better in-house editor than a sixth grade English Language Arts teacher? I don’t think so!) I was beginning one of the most tedious and yet inspirational parts of all this. Shopping for an agent.
Because you’ve got to have an agent. You’ve got to. If you don’t have an agent, you’re just begging to be taken advantage of. Or ignored all together. Publisher’s virtually never accept unsolicited manuscripts. The “slush pile” from which the next unknown bestseller is going to be snatched has moved from the publisher’s office to the agent’s.
Among things that my agents have done for me over the years is get them to put more money up front, get money for the German language rights to a book (there never was a German-language edition, but our agent got us a little bit of cash for the rights to it. If they had actually made one, that would have resulted in more money) and holler at the publisher when a check was late – “lost” on some desk at the publishing house. Agents definitely earn their keep.
(And before you ask – if you query an “agent” and the purported agent wants money up front, you’re being conned. A legitimate agent does not get paid until you do. Let me say that again. A LEGITIMATE AGENT DOES NOT GET PAID UNTIL YOU DO. Which gives them an incentive to sell your book.)
So you go through lists of agents and agencies. You want to make sure that you know the rules each agency isnsists on when submitting your work. Some want your first ten pages. Some want the first 25. Some want your query letter written a specific way, and others use an online form. You also want to send your query to agents who actually are looking for the kind of thing you have written, who perhaps have sold things in your genre. You’re looking for the person in each office who seems to best suit your career.
It’s totally random. But for a few moments for each agency, it’s like you’re on Literary Tinder, trying to spark up a relationship. And then on to the next. Swipe left (or right, I have no idea. I’ve never been on Tinder.)
After two afternoons of poring over the website I was using, I had a list of 14 potential agents, 14 potential relationships.
And it’d be nice to think somewhere in that 14 is “the one.” But the reality is, it’s a long slog. My last time, I sent out 71 queries before I found an agent, Eddie. He was worth the effort, extremely positive and hard working. He tried for a year and a half to sell “Chrissie Warren: Pirate Hunter.” Sadly without success.
He was preceded by Scott, who also seemed blindly optimistic about the odds of selling “Chance,” my first pirate novel, a story he called “Treasure Island for a new generation.” You have to love that kind of enthusiasm, right? He had gotten “Pirattitude” and “The Pirate Life” published, and he got “Chance” to the final meeting of a really big publishing house, REALLY BIG, a meeting after which there would have been contracts and money and a chance for a lot of sales. Sadly, that was the high point of that one. (There’s a funny story about how Scott ended up as my agent. I’ll tell it tomorrow because I’m running out of space here.)
Neither Scott nor Eddie were ultimately successful and they eventually ended our relationship. That happens, too. When you first get signed by an agent, it feels as if they’ve fallen in love with your book. It feels like you’ve been asked to the prom by the captain of the football team. But if, after months and years of putting in effort on your behalf without any recompense, they “fall out of love.” You can’t blame them. They’re in the business to make money. If you aren’t making money, they aren’t. The first thing the publishing business is, is a business.
So both Scott and Eddie fell out of love with my work. Yes, they are on my list to query soon. But I really have no idea whether our past is going to help or hurt. Will hearing from me stir those embers? Or will they not want to go to the prom with “their ex.” Will they feel, “Him again!?! No way! Once burned, fella.” And yeah, it hurts a little. But it’s part of the game, part of the business.
So we will see. I’ve got work to do.